MISSOULA — The Petersen brothers have moved just about anything you can think of. "I guess the most interesting things we've moved are cell phone towers and those cell phone monitoring buildings, which are made of concrete," Craig Petersen said Monday. "Hauled 'em to the site and pushed them straight up the hill with a 'dozer."
Then they got a call from Steve Dundas. He had a considerably more curious proposition for the Petersens.
"When he said it was boat, I thought, 'Well, OK, we can move a boat,' " Craig said. "And then he said it was a steel boat. And then he said it was sitting on top of a mountain."
The boat started as a dream for Steve Dundas. A former Navy SEAL, he'd long been a fan of the famous boat designer John Alden, who started his design business in the early 20th century. Dundas settled on a schooner design that Alden came up with in 1932.
Dundas had extensive history with woodworking and some experience with welding, but he'd never made a boat.
"I'd done a lot of different things, but I'd never tackled anything like this before," he said. "A lot of people — actually, almost everybody — thought it was nuts. I guess to some degree they had a point."
Even so, Dundas had a will to succeed that would not be denied.
"I don't have much history in feeling like there's something I can't do," he said.
Just as importantly, however, was the support of his sons, Guthrie and Colin, and his wife, Judy, who kept working while Steve devoted himself to the boat.
"I know for some people this sort of thing can end in divorce, but Judy was 100 percent behind this from the start," he said. "If anything, I'd say it's drawn us closer."
The project started three years and 10 months ago. Dundas spent some of nearly every day working on the boat. He built it at the home the family built above Sawmill Gulch in the upper Rattlesnake in 1989. It's the sort of place, at the end of a 1.2-mile long dirt road, where a man can concentrate on his work.
"I knew if I got a place in town where I could work on it that I'd probably never get it done," he said. "Being able to work at home is the reason I finished."
More than 10,000 hours of work later, the Dundas family has a boat. When the Dundases made the boat decision, it was part of a larger plan that is now falling into place. Judy and Steve have property on Stuart Island in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state, and the boat will be their home for the next several years while Steve builds a new family home. The boat may have cost more than $100,000, but it's so much more than a boat.
"It's our house now. We're just going to do the real house as we have the money," he said. "We're not really in a hurry now that we have the boat."
Still, a boat needs water, and until Monday she was sitting dry and oh-so-high at the top of a hill in the Rattlesnake Valley.
Not long ago, Steve hired a company to move the boat from his house to the valley floor. A considerable amount of time and money later, the boat had moved 50 feet.
"They couldn't do it, so they just abandoned it," Steve said.
Then Steve found the Petersen brothers. They came up and had a look at the boat and the road.
"I was pretty much dumfounded by the boat," Craig said. "The idea that this guy had this at his house just blew me away. It was like a dream."
Late last week, they set about making it happen.
The boat is 481/2 feet long and weighs nearly 50,000 pounds. It was too heavy for a trailer that could be brought up the narrow dirt road, plus the road was too winding and tilted to handle a trailer anyway.
"It was pretty clear it was going to have to be a push-pull sort of thing," Craig Petersen said.
After some considerable work to bulk up the steel sled — "We welded until we knew it was safe, then we welded another half day," Craig said — the journey began.
Scott drove the big dozer, which was hitched to the front of the sled. Craig followed in the little dozer, pushing from the right corner and making sure it couldn't tip off the steep road bank. Craig's son, Cody, and employee Evan Wilson handled directional duties along with Steve and his son Guthrie. It was a crunching, lurching spectacle that somehow maintained an element of the sublime.
"I can't believe what these guys can do with a bulldozer," Steve said.
By the time the moving party reached Sawmill Gulch Road, where Shane Andersen and Lee Persson from D&G Crane awaited, they'd drawn quite a crowd. Many were family friends and neighbors, and they were heartened to see the big boat finally come down from the mountain.
"I've been coming up here for two years and I told him he'd never get it off the hill," said Craig MacDonald, who runs Rattlesnake Gardens and delivered fresh coffee Monday morning.
Hank Harrington helped Steve Dundas with the boat's two masts, and he watched anxiously as Andersen pivoted the crane and swung the boat in a dramatic arc over the tractor-trailer rig that would take it down the valley.
To the untrained eye, it seemed like there were far too many things that might go wrong, but the men behind the very large machinery seemed totally at ease.
"I've moved some pretty big boats, but I never moved one off the mountain," said Shane Andersen. "But still, it's just crane work."
"Looks pretty cool, though, huh?" said Persson.
A smattering of applause wafted up when the sled-boat came down on top of the trailer, and within the hour the boat was on the road. Dundas has made arrangements for a marine transport company to pick the boat up on Tuesday, and then she's off to Port Townsend, Wash., where Steve and Guthrie will spend the next few weeks getting her rigged up.
"And then we're going sailing," Steve said.